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As Iranian women continue to resist the requirement of wearing a headscarf in public, the country's Islamic regime is launching another drive to reinforce the garb it sees as a symbol of public decency. This time, the focus is on rules in government offices.

The headscarf is part of the attire the Islamic Republic has imposed on women since 1979, and many particularly resent it in the summer months. Women must also wear an overall — pleasantly termed the manteau — or a more traditional, body-length shawl (chador) to cover their clothes and hide their body shape. The entire ensemble, which can be stifling in hot weather, is termed hijab or covering.

New hijab drive

The country's late supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, began touting the hijab within weeks of taking power in early 1979, which angered many secular or communist women who had eagerly taken part in the revolution that toppled the Westernizing monarchy. The first protests against hijab, on March 8, 1979, prompted a climbdown by the new authorities, but once the regime felt safely in power, it resumed its push. In the early 1980s, headscarves became obligatory in government offices (as neckties were banned for men), then in the private sector, schools and universities and finally, everywhere outside the home.

For over four decades, women have intermittently protested against the "Islamic uniform," courting arrests, beatings, and jail and whipping sentences. Their resistance persists on a day-to-day basis, every time they fail to tighten their headscarves with the zeal authorities expect. In summer as in winter, and particularly in parts of Tehran, headscarves keep sliding back to reveal the female hairline.

The aim is to rectify the way government... employees are dressed.

When they see standards slipping, authorities cite the offense caused to families of martyrs of the war with Iraq (1980-1988) and Shia clerics to renew their propaganda through banners, slogans, or online messaging.

There are also street patrols whose actions range from verbal admonishment of passers-by, to threatened arrest and violent manhandling if need be. Now, apparently in response to pictures of girls in Tehran with loose headscarves, the regime is relaunching a hijab drive in government offices.

Recently, religious figures were appalled by pictures circulating online of loosely covered girls browsing through books at the Tehran Book Fair (in May). Social media users reportedly welcomed this as indicating youngsters' contempt for the regime, though some Culture Ministry officials insisted those girls were not in Iran.

Rouzbeh Fouladi/ZUMA

Iranian women take part in a ceremony under the sun

One more sacrifice for women

A spokesman for the Headquarters to Promote Virtues (Setad-e amr-e be ma'ruf), a public body tasked with enforcing modesty rules among other tasks, Muhammad Saleh Hashemi-Golpayegani, has said authorities would be checking on women's hijab in several provinces until July 12, named as Hijab and Modesty Day (Ruz-e hijab va efaf). The aim, he said, is "to rectify the way government... employees are dressed," and the initiative would start by sending 120 state bodies a dress code for all workers.

In a country currently suffering budget shortages, several agencies appear to be involved in this costly project to harass ordinary folk. Their coordinator appears to be the Hijab and Modesty Station (Qarargah-e hijab va efaf) recently formed in the interior ministry and headed by a Revolutionary guards general, Muhammad Hussein Sepehr.

State employees found to be unsuitably dressed will face unspecified legal action. In recent days, another state body, the Public Culture Council (Shura-e farhang-e omumi), imposed more restrictions including a ban on overalls without buttons and shorter overalls ending at the knee. It recommended women buy the full-length chador in any case.

And as for sweating in Iran's worsening summer heat: it must be one more sacrifice the Islamic state expects of respectable women.

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